Clinton’s Path Ahead

In the wake of Hillary’s Iowa third-place finish and polls out of New Hampshire indicating impending defeat, several campaign staffers had lobbied for an early exit, in an effort to preserve her reputation for either another presidential run or a bid to become Senate Majority Leader. Of course, the debate was dropped when Hillary won New Hampshire in a stunning rebound.

Now with Hillary’s prospects doubtful past March 4th, a similar discussion is occurring, revolving around how she manages her campaign’s tone during the following fortnight. One faction is calling for an all-out negative approach as a way to salvage the nomination, having already tested an array of attack ads in Wisconsin.  This group appears to be dictating the campaign strategy: last night, Hillary failed to congratulate Obama, instead using her allotted network time to launch an attack-laden “contrast” speech. She repeated the same rhetoric today in New York.

The criticisms are dusted-off lines from before, hitting the themes of “only one is ready to be commander in chief,” and “only one can face the Republicans.” Yet regardless of the intensity and frequency of the attacks, the words are not swaying voters. Wisconsin voters spoke to both jabs – rating the two equally on readiness for the presidency and deeming Obama the more electable by a 3:2 margin.  The risks associated with such negativity are high, most notably squandering the goodwill the Clintons have built up among the Democratic party. But the Clintons have shown a pattern of focusing on the immediate win and counting on smoothing ruffled feathers later.

The other group in the campaign is calling for less of the “scorched earth” tactics in order to save Hillary’s future political options.  There is a Republican analogy to be made. About a week before Florida, Rudy Giuliani’s standing plummeted in the Florida polls, his firewall morphing into his pyre. Shunted to the side in the caustic McCain-Romney feud, Giuliani struggled to distinguish himself. Yet he declined to depart the race hurling fireballs; instead, he maintained a positive demeanor and accepted his fate. There have been many parallels between the two New Yorkers this cycle – early front-runners, relying on a momentum-proof strategy, focusing on large states.  If Hillary were to follow Giuliani’s lead, she would have little chance at the nomination, but a brighter political future.

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